Working with the Private Sector to Promote Women’s Empowerment
“I was confident in setting up my poultry farm as an entrepreneur and now want to create employment opportunities for others. I love having my own new business that brings financial comfort to my family, and I am now full of courage and hope.”
Morzina Begum, Feed the Future Bangladesh Women’s Empowerment Activity (WEA) participant and new poultry farmer.
Morzina Begum lives in Isali, a village in the Jessore District of Bangladesh, with her husband and four daughters. Morzina’s family was completely dependent on her husband, whose earnings weren’t enough to support the family. Morzina was part of a large percentage of women in Bangladesh who lack control over family income and resources. According to the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, a survey-based index designed to measure the empowerment, agency and inclusion of women in the agricultural sector, only 23 percent of women in Bangladesh’s Feed the Future zone are empowered. The report found that although the gap between women’s and men’s empowerment in Bangladesh has narrowed, women in the country still face restricted opportunities and less access to and control over resources and income.
Addressing Gender Gaps in Access to Resources
The Feed the Future Bangladesh Women’s Empowerment Activity teamed up with Advanced Chemical Industries Ltd. (ACI), a Bangladeshi agribusiness company, to work with women like Morzina to improve access to productive resources and increase power and agency. Necessary resources can be grouped into three main categories of the core and extended value chain: 1) assets, 2) agricultural services, and 3) financial services. Access to these resources is largely determined by sociocultural norms, policy frameworks and household dynamics that often result within gender gaps in each resource category. Examples include gender gaps in access to and adoption of new technology, training and information, social capital, and inputs.
To address these gender-constraints, ACI offered households a two-day Agricultural Technical Training and a three-day Entrepreneurship Development Training. The trainings provided participants with the skills, technical knowledge, and confidence to engage in new income-generating activities. For Morzina, this meant establishing a small-scale poultry operation. Morzina’s new understanding of poultry feed varieties and poultry health maintenance as well as her ability to create and implement an effective business and marketing plan helped to mitigate the risks traditionally associated with small-scale poultry farming. She started a two-decimal farm with 200 chicks that she received from ACI, and with her own investment built a structure to rear the chicks. Morzina applied her technical knowledge and skills to successfully rear her first round of chicks. In the first cycle Morzina made a profit of 21,750 Bangladeshi Taka, around $280 US, which she reinvested in a second venture. In the second venture, she made a profit of 12,285 Bangladeshi Taka, around $160 US, and is now planning to use these funds to start a larger poultry firm.
Photo: Morzina Begum tends to her chicks on her two decimal poultry farm. Credit: Winrock International.
The Feed the Future Bangladesh Women’s Empowerment Activity’s partnership with ACI has been successful because the partners collaborated to understand their shared goals and establish the program interventions ACI was best suited to lead. ACI’s leadership in Bangladesh’s food market makes it well-positioned to provide new technologies and technical training to female beneficiaries and their households. ACI’s position also establishes linkages between beneficiaries’ input suppliers and retailers. ACI has also recognized that engaging women adds new buyers and sellers to its supply chain, and increases the customer base for its agriculture support services and products.
ACI and the Feed the Future Bangladesh Women’s Empowerment Activity understood the limits of the partnership and understood that ACI is best positioned to provide part of a much larger set of interventions. USAID’s Handbook on Promoting Gender Equitable Opportunities in Agricultural Value Chains notes that expanding women’s productive participation may lead to an increase or a decrease in their access to and control over their income. To ensure that women’s productive participation leads to real, positive change in agency and power among women beneficiaries, private sector-led technical and entrepreneurial trainings are part of a holistic program aiming to increase women’s community leadership, strengthen their decision-making about resources and agricultural production, and increase their control over income.